The following are previews with betting tips for the semi-finals of the 2017 Super Rugby season. While many have critiqued the tournament seeding format, justice has been served in the quarter-finals so the semi-finals do feature the four best sides in the competition. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes and Chiefs have had to do more travelling than they would have in a points seeding format.
Saturday, 29 July
Crusaders v Chiefs
View a detailed form guide for Crusaders v Chiefs
The Crusaders suffocated the Highlanders 17-0 in incredibly wet conditions last week to notch their 18th consecutive playoff win in Christchurch. The Crusaders are focusing on putting in another disciplined performance, pointing out that all of their key matches this season have been swung by the penalty count. After being pinged 15 times in their loss to the Hurricanes, the Crusaders picked up only six penalties the following week against the Highlanders. In their Round 13 clash against the Chiefs in Fiji the Crusaders were outscored four tries to three but capitalized on the Chiefs’ indiscipline, kicking four penalties to nil to win 31-24.
The Chiefs shook off an error-strewn first half to see off the Stormers 17-11 in Cape Town. Damian McKenzie’s accurate kicking proved to be crucial while the Chiefs defence was able to nullify the Stormers’ possession. History is against the Chiefs this week. Only two sides have ever made the trip from South Africa to New Zealand and won their next playoff match.
Betting: the Chiefs have won four of their last five clashes against the Crusaders, however the Crusaders won their 2017 meeting 31-24 in Fiji. Given the Crusaders’ imperious home record in the playoffs, I am leaning towards them in the head-to-head, but they have been heavily backed by punters and I’m not convinced the shortened 1.28 odds represent good value. I will instead back the Chiefs to keep this close and take the Crusaders 1-12 at 2.63 (Sportsbet).
Sunday, 30 July
Lions v Hurricanes
View a detailed form guide for Lions v Hurricanes
The Lions were the heavy favourites to beat the Sharks last week, but pressure may have played a role as Elton Jantjies and the Lions had had a rare off night, which saw the Sharks take a 14-3 halftime lead. The Lions clawed their way back into the game in the second half and it took a 58-metre penalty from Ruan Combrinck with two minutes remaining for the Lions to clinch the 23-21 come-from-behind win. The Lions certainly dodged a bullet last week and will need to lift if they are to see off the Hurricanes. The South African media is concerned that the Lions haven’t been tested by playing a New Zealand side this season. Last year the Stormers won their conference and the 3rd seed but were mauled 21-60 at home by the Chiefs in the qualifiers – a result the Stormers management put down to the fact that they didn’t have any preparation against any New Zealand sides.
The Hurricanes overcame a disjointed first half performance to see off the Brumbies with relative ease in Canberra last week, running out 35-16 winners after winning the second half 20-0. The Brumbies threw the kitchen sink at them in the first half as they struggled to find their rhythm, but the Hurricanes were able to build pressure through 85% territory and capitalize on Brumbies’ errors in the second half. One ace up the sleeve of the Hurricanes this week is assistant coach John Plumtree is the former head coach of the Sharks, so he knows South African rugby well. Since Plumtree joined the Hurricanes in 2015 they have gone 11-1 against South African teams and 3-0 against the Lions (2-0 in Johannesburg). In team news, the Hurricanes are expected to welcome back midfielder Vince Aso from a groin injury. Captain Dane Coles is expected to start after returning via the bench from a long-term concussion last week.
Betting: on paper this should be a great game, especially with the sunny weather forecast. The Lions are 15-2 over the last 12 months while the Hurricanes are 14-3. This is a replay of last season’s final, which the Hurricanes won 20-3 in Wellington. Going back to 2009 the Hurricanes have won all seven clashes against the Lions, which includes a 50-17 win in Johannesburg last season. Travelling is something the Hurricanes don’t mind doing. They have gone 6-2 away from home over the last 12 months with 5 of those 6 wins coming by 13+ margins. I wrote last week that on paper the Hurricanes were the last team the Brumbies wanted to face and you could argue the same could be said for the Lions. The Hurricanes have a strong record against South African sides so I will side with them to get the win. I will back the Hurricanes in the head-to-head at 1.80 (Sportsbet).